Archaeologists uncover Zoroastrian Links in Northwest China

The article below entitled “Excavation ‘very likely’ to redefine the Zoroastrianism’s origin” was published on August 12, 2014 by China’s CCTV network.

Three important notes the CCTV article fails to mention that:

  1. Iranian-speaking Persians, Medes, Saggarthians, Parthians, etc. themselves came onto the Iranian plateau from the Central Asian steppes, areas adjacent to the Pamir and northwest China regions. Those regions themselves were inhabited with Iranian speaking and fellow Indo-European Tocharian (or possibly proto-Celtic) peoples. These peoples were to be largely displaced by the later arrival of proto-Turkic and Hunnic peoples.
  2. It has been speculated for decades that proto-Zoroastrianism may have originated in the Central Asian regions and then bought to the Iranian plateau by Iranian speakers over 2500 years ago. Thus the title of the report “Excavation ‘very likely’ to redefine the Zoroastrianism’s origin” is somewhat sensationalist (if not misleading) as ancient Persia was itself part of a larger Iranic-civilization connected to Central Asia and much of Eastern Europe (through the Iranic-speaking Scythians and later Sarmatians).
  3. Several well-preserved mummies bearing Caucasoid features have been uncovered in northwest China (see pictures below) dated to the timelines of 2500 years past and older. The mummies bear clothing, headgear consistent with the dress of the ancient Medes, Persians, Parthians and Scythians-Saka (of Central Asia and ancient Russia-Ukraine).

Kindly note:

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Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the ancient Persian Empire. Its founder, Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, is thought to have been born in what is now Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan. A 2004 survey by the Zoroastrian Associations of North America put the estimated number of believers worldwide at between 124,000 and 190,000.

UBC-Migrations-1Basic diagram outlining arrival of Iranian speaking peoples (Medes, Persians, Saggarthians) onto the Iranian plateau before the formation of the first Medo-Persian or Achaemenid Empire in 550-330 BCE. The red elliptical markings provide approximate areas where Iranian speaking peoples were located thousands of years ago. The diagram does not show the arrival of several other Iranian peoples such as the Parthians and other Saka peoples from Central Asia or the subsequent arrival of the Alans into northwest Iran in 75 CE (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh).

Now, archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. This unravelling is leading to startling controversial speculation about the religion’s origin.

On China’s sparsely populated Pamir Plateau, ancient people lived and battled, and created a marvelous civilization. These massive tombs, now being excavated, are the world’s earliest traces of the religion of Zoroastrianism found so far.

Zoroastrianism took form even before the rise of Persian Empire, which later adopted it as the state religion. The sun and fire are central to the religion, and the signs are found everywhere in the tombs.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”.

Today, most of the ancient glories lie in ruins. But the dig now offers a glimpse of what life here looked like over 25 centuries ago.

UBC-2-MigrationsMummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh).

This is the biggest excavation of the tombs of Zoroastrianism here in Xinjiang’s history. Some archaeologists say the excavation is likely to prove that this religion is originated from the Pamir Plateau, right here beneath of our feet.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-1Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: All the evidence leads to one conclusion: Zoroastrianism originated in the east on China’s Pamir Plateau. To this day, archaeologists are still arguing over where the religion originated, but here, we have found the earliest and the largest scale of Zoroastrian ruins, with all the typical symbols of this religion. Of course, there’s the possibility that there are other undiscovered ruins elsewhere in the world. But at this moment, it’s a logical conclusion that the origin of the religion is here, not in Persia.” said Wu Xinhua, Xinjiang Director, Archaeological Inst., Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Logical, perhaps. Startling and controversial, certainly. And as the excavation continues, the Pamir Plateau is bound to yield more amazing discoveries.

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Treasures at Russian Burial Site

The report below originally appeared on the Archaeology News Network (see link or in pdf “Archaeologists Discover Ancient Treasures at Russian Burial Site“) on August 6, 2013. Kindly note that:

  • The author of the Archaeology News Network cites the Scythians as “Persian-speaking” when in fact they spoke Northern Iranian languages (or more broadly, Iranian languages).
  • The second and third pictures (and accompanying captions) inserted into the article are by Kaveh Farrokh.

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Archaeologists have found the intact burial chamber of a noble woman from a powerful tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes 2,500 years ago in southern Russia, an official said Tuesday.

Russia-burial-SiteThe woman’s skeleton covered with jewelry and decorations (Picture Source: State Teachers Training University of Bashkortostan)

The Sarmatians were a group of Persian-speaking tribes that controlled what is now parts of southern Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia from around 500 BC until 400 AD. They were often mentioned by ancient Greek historians and left luxurious tombs with exquisite golden and bronze artifacts that were often looted by gravediggers.

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Saka Tigra-khauda (Old Persian: pointed-hat Saka/Scythians) as depicted in the ancient Achaemenid city-palace of Persepolis. It was northern Iranian peoples such as the Sakas (Scythians) and their successors, the Sarmatians and Alans, who were to be the cultural link between Iran and ancient Europe  (Picture used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

But the burial site found near the the village of Filippovka in the Orenburg region has not been robbed – and contained a giant bronze kettle, jewelry, a silver mirror and what appears to be containers for cosmetics, said history professor Gulnara Obydennova who heads the Institute of History and Legal Education in the city of Ufa. Professor Obydennova told RIA Novosti:

The find is really sensational also because the burial vault was intact – the objects and jewelry in it were found the way they had been placed by the ancient nomads…”

The vault – located 4 meters (13 feet) underground – was found in the “Tsar Tumulus,” a group of two dozen mounds where hundreds of golden and silver figurines of deer, griffins and camels, vessels and weapons have been found since the 1980s.

Ossetian Girl-1883[Click to Enlarge] Photograph of an Ossetian girl in 1883. The Iranian-speaking Ossetians are the modern-day descendants of the great Sarmatian tribes who once held their mighty sway over Eastern Europe.

The woman’s skeleton was still covered with jewelry and decorations, and her left hand held a silver mirror with an ornamented golden handle, Obydennova said.

The descendants of the Sarmatians include Ossetians, an ethnic group living in the Caucasus region, who speak a language related to Persian.

Sassanians in the Persian Gulf according to Archaeological Data

The article below was first given by Dr. H. Tofighian and the late Dr. Farhang Khademi Nadooshan of Tarbiat Modares University in 2011. This was published on-line by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in the CAIS website in April 2008.

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Archaeological investigations in the northern coast of the Persian Gulf and in few sites in Khuzistan have yielded evidence for the use of amphorae in Iran, in the Parthian and Sasanian period, in burials as well as trade. No evidence for production centers of amphorae in Iran has yet been found. Nonetheless, given the paucity of excavations and surveys on the coastal regions of Iran and the lack of chemical analysis of the available evidence, the possibility that at least some of the consumed amphorae where made locally must not be ruled out. The amphorae found in these southern regions are mainly of “Torpedo” type. The present paper summarizes the most significant finds of amphorae in the ancient ports of Persian Gulf including discoveries in the course of underwater investigations of Rig Port in 2001.

Summary of finds from ancient ports of Persian Gulf and off coast sites

As early as the 2nd millennium BCE, amphora jars were used in the Eastern Mediterranean; it was produced and used in most commercial centers of Mediterranean world in the two millennia afterwards. The remarkable varied typology of these vessels provides a good basis for the dating of other materials which are found along with amphorae. In general, the so‐called Greek amphorae have relatively wide bases enabling them to stand alone while the Roman type has pointed bottom and need a support. Roman amphora was highly popular in the period from 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and its geographical distribution in the Near East reached as far as ancient Indus. The amphorae to be discussed below are mainly a category of this type, named Torpedo Jars (after their shape) or Persian Gulf amphorae (after their geographical distribution).

The chronological and spatial distribution of finds around Persian Gulf proves their use in the maritime trade through this critical economic route, at least from the beginning of Parthians dominion (3rd century BCE) up to the first two centuries of Islamic era (9th century CE). The Torpedo jars are similar to the Mediterranean type in their elongated body and pointed bottom, but differentiated in the lack of neck and handle and for their relatively wide openings. Their economic use mainly concerns transportation of valuable liquids such as olive oil and wine, thus a good number of complete vessels or sherds are found to have had bitumen coating inside. However, other goods such as cereal and fish were too transported in this type of container. In Iran, the remains of amphorae are found both on the coast and under sea, the latter case often understood to be associated with shipwrecks.

Finds by the Sea

Several sites in the Bushehr Peninsula, such as “Radar” (one km south of Tel Pey Tel) and Jalali coasts have revealed remains of Torpedo Jars all coated with bitumen.

 Fig1

 [Click to Enlarge] Figure 1: find from the Jalili Coast (Picture Source: CAIS).

Also, some sites in southern coast of the Persian Gulf in UAE have also yielded amphorae of the same type dated to the Sasanian period (Kennet 2007). A summary of evidence from the Rig Port, retrieved by the author follows: The modern day port of Rig is a small town located 25 km southeast of Genaveh. In 2001, reports of pottery and metal objects found by local fishermen lead to the discovery and investigation of an under‐water site near the old port town of Rig. The site is about six hectares, not far from the coast, and the finds are collected from the depth of 3‐10 meters (see Figure 2).

 Fig2

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 2 (Picture Source: CAIS).

Beside the sherds and complete pieces of Torpedo jars used as liquid containers, finds include glazed blue ceramics, a helmet, a knee cap and a shield, as well as pieces of plain coarse ware and semi coarse ware in the form of storage jars, bowls and pots. (Amir Chaichi, 2005) (Figures 3 and 4). Concentration and distribution of many amphorae on the site and a large amorphous stone anchor among the deposited objects suggests a shipwreck as the reason for deposition of material. A similarity in typology of jars from Rig and those collected on the coasts of Bushehr is observed.

 Fig3

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 3 (Picture Source: CAIS).

 Fig4

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 4 (Picture Source: CAIS).

Off Coast Finds

A complete amphora of the so‐called Greek type is kept in the National Museum of Iran; the assumed find spot is Susa. Many Parthian and Sasanian sites around Haft Tape, identified by Robert Wenke between 1970‐77, yielded amphorae sherds. The sherds were provisionally dated to the middle and late Parthian period. Amphorae sherds were found by Moghaddam, in his survey of “Mianab” plain in Shushtar (Moghadam. A., 2005). Also from Shushtar are shreds found in Golalak, excavated by Rahbar (1966). Remains of a bitumen coated burial amphorae were found on the ground in the survey of (Kuhmand region) Botol, a site in the Bushehr province in 1995. Several amphorae sherds along with other Parthian ceramics and Seleucid coins were found in the survey of Kuzaran region by Motarjem (1997). Also Amphorae sherds along with architectural remains and other pieces of ceramics were retrieved from a stepped trench in the Parthian site of Bistone.

 Fig5

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 5 (Picture Source: CAIS).

Burial

Several Torpedo jars containing bones were found in a cemetery in the Shoghab region, near Bushehr, on a rocky hill; jars are of the same type but different in size (Fig. 5). Some jars were broken and restored after accommodating the bones (unpublished report, Rahbar and Mir Fattah 1966). These Jars were similar to the finds from royal cemeteries of Susa and the Canaanite type, all bitumen coated, with long pointed bottoms.

In the Bushehr region, several other burial amphorae containing bones have been found by local people while digging for different purposes. Several Parthian amphorae have been found in Susa and other archaeological sites in Khuzistan in burials. Parthian burials were mostly placed in the defensive walls of both Acropole and Ville Royale. A shaft dug in the mud brick wall led to an underground tunnel and several chambers. Some amphorae, all of Torpedo type and bitumen coated, were found in these graves, all broken in the upper part. A few Parthian coins found in the graves were the basis of their dating. One torpedo jar with assumed burial function is kept in the national museum of Iran (Figure 6). This jar is of the kind retrieved from Shogab and Susa cemeteries; its exact place of find is not known.

 Fig6

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 6 (Picture Source: CAIS).

The Persian Gulf (Torpedo) jars found up to now are comprised of Parthian and Sasanian amphorae. The retrieved Parthian amphorae do not show significant variety in their form and size and were solely used in the burials. The Sasanian amphorae, however, are much more varied in form and size and were used both in burials and for trade. The distribution of amphorae on the sites far from the sea in the non‐burial context primarily comes from Khuzistan and the coastal provinces of Persian Gulf. This is an indicator that they were used both on land and in the sea trade between the Mediterranean world and the Near East. A comparative study of typology of amphorae over in the wider regional context, in particular between Iran, Mesopotamia and the southern regions of Persian Gulf could tell much about the cultural and economic interactions of these communities. Nonetheless, our knowledge of the use and distribution of these jars is limited at the moment.

Bibliography

Kennet. D. 2007, “The Decline of eastern Arabia in the Sasanian period,” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 18:86, 122. Mirfatah. A., 1965, Excavation report of cemetery of Shaghabe of Boshehr, submitted to the Institute of Archaeology (unpublished).

Moghadam. A., 2005 Archaeological Survey of Mianab‐e Shoshtar, report submitted to Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (unpublished).

Motarjem. A. 1998., The first archaeological report of Bistone, submitted to Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (unpublished).

Motarjem . A., 1998, Survey and excavation report of Kozaran, submitted to the Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (unpublished).

Rahbar. M., 1966. Archaeological Report of Shaghab Cemetery, Report Submitted to Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.